Right Thinking From The Left Coast
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A Message from Rick

Stefanie, Rick’s wife, just forwarded this email over from Rick and asked me to post it.

I apologize for my email hiatus, but besides being on blackout status for a majority of the last 2 week, I am also in a transition as I have yet again been promoted to a position of greater authority (can you say CSM in 2 years?) as our emphasis in country has shifted focus towards a predominantly combat role; simply put we are finally issuing control of this wasteland to the Iraqis in hopes of getting the hell out of here. April is a great month in so many ways and contemplating all that has transpired both in the short term and in the course of an existence is staggering. The passage of time here is a challenge to track.  There are no days off and much like the movie “Groundhog Day” the days pretty much all look and feel the same no matter what you do.  The time warp is magnified by events and busy schedules.  More activities make it seem like a lot of time has passed, yet looking forward, we have not yet really started our deployment here.  But there’s light at the end of the tunnel…

July marks another anniversary for Stefanie and I.  There’s the staggering part. The part of my life with Stefanie now exceeds the part of my life without her. Basic training, living in a war zone, Tristan, deployments, the Tri-Cities, (aaauuuuugggghhh).  It’s been a heck of a good ride!!!

For all the “fun” I’ve had wearing camouflage, it is hard to believe that on 28 May, I will officially have 18 years of service. It has gone remarkably quick, but it also begs the question; are you going to retire?  Yes, eventually ( 7 years ). Serving here has definitely given me a different perspective to consider.  Life in a combat zone is not intolerable, and I have had the opportunity to apply my training and experiences to impact our operations here. It’s challenging, rewarding, and highly unnerving. 3 tours is enough I think. I think retirement will take some serious consideration after these experiences become past tense and have seasoned a bit. Things here continue to progress.  The units that were here when we arrived have rotated out one-by-one, and now we are the old guys on the block.  Through all of that, though, there’s one joker that still lingers on.  The dining facility (DFAC) posts the current menu on a white dry erase board at the entrance.  Every time buttered noodles or buttered potatoes are on the menu, the first e in buttered always manages to get erased.  It must be a navy.

Travel here is always a mess.  For you travel warriors out there, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  To go anywhere “outside the wire” (off the FOB) you have to either drive or fly.  Driving involves drafting an operations order, pulling together a wealth of personnel and vehicles to secure your movement, and dodging IEDs along the way.  Flying is more direct, avoids IEDs, and painful beyond measure.  I recently traveled to Fallujah to visit one of our patrols there and accompany them on a mission.  The plan called for air travel, so after making the appropriate arrangements, I headed to the flight line.  Flight schedules here are like Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny.  You can believe in them if you want to, but when you talk about your flight time, you get that smile like a kid gets when he mentions his invisible friend.

On the day of my trip, the Easter Bunny was scheduled to appear at 2100, but since he might show up early, you’re required to show up 4 hours prior.  No exceptions.  Our flight office here is the size of small construction trailer, so space is limited and passengers have to stay outside no matter what the weather until their flight shows up.  The only exception to this is that field grade officers and above are allowed to hang out in the building, drink coffee, and watch TV.  Particularly when there’s a dust storm going on outside, it’s dark, and the temperatures are dropping.

Once the weather cleared up, we had about 5 minutes notice to get all our gear on (body armor, helmet, weapon, earplugs, eye protection, gloves) and get out to the flight line ‘cause our aircraft was inbound.  The ground crew conducted an abbreviated manifest check as the two Marine CH-46 helicopters (twin top rotors) settled onto the pad scouring everyone with dust.  File out to the bird, walk up the ramp, drop your bags just inside the ramp and find an empty seat in the half-light of the interior.  With minimal delay, the ramp at the rear begins to rise as the lights go out, the craft vibrates suddenly, the nose pitches downward as we “get light”, and the bird hoists itself into the night.  Only the bottom half of the ramp is closed, and as we climb out in a banked turn, you can see the spectral gray shape of the wing man fade in and out against the terrain and lights below as he trails behind and to the side, shadowing every move.  It’s 0153 in the morning.

You can tell when the aircraft passes over the outer perimeter of the FOB.  Both waist gunners simultaneously rack the action on their .50 caliber machine gun and start scanning the ground; night vision goggles vaguely illuminating their eyes in the blacked out craft.

One of the wonders of this place is that no matter where you go or what time you arrive, there’s always someone that will give you a place to sleep.  It may be a cot in the corner or a bunk in a tent with 15 people you’ve never met and will never see again (now that’s a one night stand), but it’s a place to rack out and rest.  And no matter where you sleep, it’s always the furthest distance from the latrines and showers. At least they have real porcelain and sidewalks in Fallujah.

The rest of the trip was a flurry of meetings with Marine and Navy staff to coordinate missions, and then on to the business at hand:  hunting IEDs with our guys out of Bad Karmah.  On the relative scale, it was good mission.  We found 3 IEDs, and only one found us.  Along the route, we got held up by one of the other units in the area.  They had observed several guys planting an IED on the route ahead of us and since they were planning to interdict they had us hold our position.  An artillery barrage delivered in the dark makes quite the light show.  I think we should try that at home next 4th of July!!  Technically, I don’t think that falls under the fireworks ban in Benton County.

Moving forward from there, the driver of the vehicle I was in suddenly hits the brakes and says “What was that on the side of the road?”. “Don’t know.  Back up and lets check it.” As we rolled back and our spot lights came to bear on the suspicious spot on the shoulder of the road, I see two distinct wires running across the shoulder and disappearing into the ground just before they reach what appears to be a seam in the pavement that traces a line directly under my seat.  The wire is the same type that is commonly used to set off IEDs.  Time to go.  NOW!  And all I hear at that point is the transmission arguing as the gears try to decide whether we should continue to roll backwards or surge forward as the driver wills the gear shift lever to move.

Fast forward ten minutes.  Our interrogation crew rips a 155 mm artillery shell out of the pavement right below where we had been.  For those of you that don’t know, 155 mm is about the biggest ordnance you can get delivered without a naval barrage or aircraft.  Another successful find for the good guys… We have neutralized well over 70 IEDs since we got here.

Now that I’m back in Ramadi, it’s time to plow through all the email again and figure out what I missed while I was gone.  Sometimes it doesn’t pay to leave the office.

For now, we March forward.

Rick

Semper Fi, brother.  Good hunting, and stay alive.

Posted by Lee on 04/29/07 at 03:50 PM in War on Terror/Axis of Evil • Permalink

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